The federal grant was awarded to the joint General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) of the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) and the University of California in Irvine (UC Irvine). The GCRC will co-ordinate the nationwide effort to link and share vast amounts of computerised data from brain images of people who have schizophrenia. In addition, researchers participating in the project will create standardised, powerful discovery tools for future brain studies in large populations.
Although brain imaging technology has generated remarkable progress in understanding how mental and neurological diseases develop, it has been nearly impossible for one laboratory to share and compare findings with other labs. A lack of co-ordinated networks for sharing data, plus limitations in compatible computer hardware, software and imaging equipment, have isolated scientists, barring them from collaborative efforts that could provide the large database of brain images needed for a comprehensive look at brain dysfunction.
The newly funded project will utilise a nationally linked, high-speed computer network established by the Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN), a consortium of United States universities that received their initial funding from the NCRR in 2001. During the past year, BIRN has utilised the new Internet 2 network and broadband networking technologies to link several sites in the United States. With this new technology, scientists will distribute and share brain imaging data, including high-resolution digital magnetic resonance images (MRI) of brain structure and function, advanced 3D microscope images, and related genomic, structural and gene expression data.
Steven G. Potkin, M.D., UCI professor of psychiatry, will lead the new three-year investigation. "This grant allows a diverse group of researchers across the country to develop new methods to combine unique brain imaging data obtained at different centres", Dr. Potkin stated. "This grant will find new ways to conduct very large imaging experiments and ease the exchange of data among researchers, not just in schizophrenia but eventually in a whole range of brain disorders and other diseases."
Sites and investigators participating in the new study are the University of California in Irvine (UCI) led by Dr. Potkin, the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) led by Gregory Brown, the University of California in Los Angels (UCLA) led by Arthur Toga, Stanford University led by Gary Glover, University of New Mexico led by John Lauriello, University of Minnesota led by Kelvin Lim, Massachusetts General Hospital led by Bruce Rosen, with Brigham and Women's Hospital led by Ron Kikinis, Duke University led by Gregory McCarthy, University of North Carolina led by Jeffrey Lieberman, and University of Iowa led by Daniel O'Leary.
The massive FIRST BIRN project will consist of two stages:
- Researchers at UC Irvine and UCSD will create a centralised database that is easily accessed by researchers, regardless of their physical location or type of laboratory technology. Led by Mark Ellisman, UCSD professor of neurosciences and director of the BIRN co-ordinating centre, the researchers will examine the major sources of variation in brain imaging studies, including the instruments used, calibration of equipment and data analysis, to find avenues for large-scale experiments and to maximise the insight imaging studies can provide.
- UCI's Dr. Potkin will lead ten centres conducting clinical trials using MRI scanners, applying the technology developed in the project to study healthy persons and patients with schizophrenia. The researchers will compare the anatomic and brain changes that occur in this disease, and detail how brain functions change as the disease progresses. They also will compare what happens in the brain before and after medication.